Diocese of Willochra Centenary Service – Port Pirie Cathedral
I have developed a relationship with the Church in Egypt. The cathedral in Cairo is a special place.
As a worshipping community it is not very big;
no bigger than a medium size parish.
Yet that cathedral community cares for something like 21000 refugees. Impossible I thought.
The Director, Dr Nabil Morcos, explains the development of this remarkable work in terms of that passage of Scripture, which is our Gospel today.
The disciples are faced with the overwhelming and impossible: 5000 harassed and hungry people in the Palestinian wilderness; 20,000 displaced and desperate people among the millions in Cairo.
Needs beyond any reasonable response: "Where are we going to buy bread for these people to eat?" Philip pulls out his calculator and does the sums. It is impossible. It is an insane ask!
"You feed them", Jesus tells the disciples.
The disciples have five barley loaves and two fish.
One Anglican Parish in a dominantly Moslem city with thousands of displaced persons.
"You feed them".
That ministry in Cairo is called Refuge Egypt.
It provides a place of gathering; food, clothing, a medical clinic, counselling, work training and advocacy.
It has become a place of hope for many.
"You feed them", Jesus said.
It all began when a group of Anglicans
decided to do something that on one level at least, made little sense: in the face of overwhelming need, they offered what little they had.
According to John,
a boy brought forward his five barley loaves and two fish, and Jesus blessed them into abundance.
For the Gospel writers it’s a miracle,
which is a challenge for the modern mind,
that tends to dismiss everything that does not fit into a very closed, mechanical and materialistic view of the world.
Or for some theologians.
who dislike these biblical stories of miracle,
not necessarily because of their convictions about a closed universe, but because they see it as bad form for God to step in
and violate the very order that God created,
as if the world, or God, is so fixed, so anal retentive,
that there is no room for gift or surprise.
I hasten to add though, that such sceptics,
might find much less and less comfort in modern physics,
as increasingly it embraces a far more open view about how the universe functions, and moves beyond the rigid mechanical view of the physical world that characterised my early science, with no room for paradox or surprise.
But there is no doubt that in today’s world we might want to explain more in terms of natural process, events which were left simply as miracle within the biblical saga.
The manna in the desert of Moses’ fame could well have been a white residue commonly found under a species of acacia. The Bedouins know of it still.
And the crossing of the shallow Reed Sea may well have been made possible by a combination of prevailing wind and low tide, as Scripture itself hints.
Such explanations, should they apply,
do not diminish the narrative or indeed the sense of miracle; the sense of divine presence;
such understandings as wit and science can give us,
do not mean that we have to reduce everything
to the natural categories of our own observation.
So I do not need to know the physics
of what occurred when five loaves and two fish were brought, and a great multitude of people were fed,
in order to recognise a moment of divine presence.
Jesus blessed the bread and broke it, and they were all fed and satisfied.
From one point of view this is what God does all the time,
in the grain-growing areas of this Diocese of Willochra,
as the rain waters the fields and the sun of summer brings golden grain to head. We don't call a field of wheat a miracle,
but perhaps that's the point.... perhaps that’s the message of faith.
As C.S. Lewis once said, "miracles are a retelling in small letters of the same story that is written across the whole world in letters too large for some of us to see”.
Every day, in our hospitals, the blind see, the lame walk. We have spent a fortune teaching you to call it medicine, or technology, or a well-functioning health care delivery system.
Today's gospel bids you to call it miracle.
Thank God that occasionally, through some people, in an unexpected moment, our eyes are opened,
a moment of disclosure occurs,
the lid is lifted off the universe,
and we see the hand of God moving among us.
People are provided for sustained, fed, healed supported, and an ordinary world glows with the presence of God.
And through that moment of seeing,
that moment of miracle,
we see the whole world in a different way.
And part of our task in ministry is to help people to that special kind of seeing.
I am just coming up to 10 years in Adelaide
and I am more conscious than ever,
that the call and challenge before us as a Church, before me as a leader within the Church,
lie beyond my best abilities,
and require much more than we have to offer.
At the last General Synod we received something called the “Structures and Viability Report”. In 150 pages of analysis it basically told us we are in a hopeless situation. Half the dioceses should not exist and the road ahead looks bleak.
“You feed them”, Jesus said. An impossible ask.
However, because of the story of a boy with two barley loaves and two fishes, I can see it all differently.
Because of a story they called a miracle,
I can see the miracle of the everyday,
and know that what I can offer can be changed, transformed and made more than enough.
Is that a miracle? Indeed it is. It is the everyday miracle of grace.
Surely this is the miracle we celebrate on this anniversary day.
At the heart of this day is not a story of abundant resources, human provision, endless means, deep pockets, talent and capacity.
but that God has graced our five Willochra barley loaves of generosity,
and made something wonderful of what might have seemed not much.
That’s the heart of our celebration today.
“You feed them”, said Jesus.
Of course today we do remember and thank God for those who have given, who have built and contributed.
But somehow in the very vastness of this diocese,
and all its challenges,
we are confronted acutely with what is true for the whole church;
we are confronted by an ecclesial truth;
that at our best as the people of God,
we are like the boy with five barley loaves, offering the little to the impossible,
and then seeing the wonderful.
And that is what enables us to hear those words of Jesus from later in our Gospel reading, “Do not be afraid”, as we face the storms and the winds or opposition of apathy blowing in our face.
And as we look beyond this day to the future;
as we must if an anniversary is to be true remembering
and not just nostalgia.
And so, once more we dare to offer what we have
recognizing that our best gifts, can be transformed and multiplied,
by the miracle of grace that made the difference then and make the difference now. That, my brothers and sisters, is something worth celebrating.